The St. Louis Blues have had a revolving door in net since 2009 when Manny Legace moved on, but the team hasn’t had a solid, true number-1 tendy since Brent Johnson (99-04), Roman Turek (00-01; we all remember how his run ended), or Hall-of-Famer Grant Fuhr (96-99). That epidemic seems to be healing itself this season, as Jake Allen has taken over in net for the Note as of late.
Photo: Bleedin Blue
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
The road to the number-1 job for the New Brunswick native hasn’t been straight and quick. Allen spent 4 years in the QMJHL (Major Juniors) playing with 3 different teams in 2 Provinces before making the leap to the AHL in 2010. He then spent almost 3 full seasons in Peoria and Chicago with the Blues affiliates (Rivermen & Wolves), before finally getting his chance with the big club. He first made waves in 2012-13 when injuries sent Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak to the IR, giving him the chance to experience the NHL. Though his 2.46 GAA and .905 save-% weren’t amazing, they were enough to turn some heads, and rightfully so.
Allen even had a candidate for TSN’s play-of-the-year that season when he robbed a Calgary Flames defenseman of an open net with just his stick paddle (he then caught the puck nonchalantly out of the air for a whistle). He later returned to the AHL for the 2013-14 season, where he won the league’s Goaltender-of-the-Year award. Once Jake the Snake finally cracked the full-time NHL roster for the Blues last season a lot of fans had extremely high expectations of him due to all of his past successes. What they needed to remember then (and what they still must) is that with anything difficult comes a learning curve.
Last season saw Allen go 11-4-2 with a 2.28 GAA, and a .913 save-%, great numbers for a first year guy. However since the goaltending conundrum became center stage in the Halak/Elliott era (and had existed even before then), Allen was thrust into the middle of it.
Despite what fans thought (and continue to think) Jake Allen has kept his focus on continuing to develop into a true number-1. Though he will also continue to have some ‘off nights’ throughout his career as any goalie does, in only his 2nd full year of NHL action he’s already shown the organization that he is the goalie of the (near) future. His powerful presence in net has begun to shine this season, and his will/grit have helped the team stay in contention in the star-studded Central Division.
In addition to his improved stats this season (2.13 GAA, .926 save %, 3 SO) Allen has already made countless timely saves that not only kept the Note in games, but are also up for ‘save-of-the-year’ highlights as well. Fans should look for this trend to continue as Jake’s supreme, puck-centric focus and athleticism (mixed with his increased positioning and depth proximity against the opposition) allow him to be in position sooner and adapt to quick, last-second changes to keep the puck out of the net consistently.
What about Ells?
Though Brian Elliott is one of the most overall consistent goalies in the league, he lacks the true staying power to be consistent in a long-term number-1 role. It’s been this way since he left the University of Wisconsin in 2006, and it hasn’t changed over his time in St. Louis. Though this year seemed to be the closest to number-1 ready he’s been in his career, an untimely injury and sickness led to Allen stealing the show. Elliott is and always will be a really great asset for the Blues, because they know they don’t lose much in terms of talent when he goes in (over Allen). However, that lack of consistency (and staying healthy) while he gets the majority of the starts is why he’s never a true number-1.
The best asset a number-1 goalie can have in the NHL is to have the worst short-term memory and the best long-term one. This means goalies can instantly forget about goals they’ve allowed once they process what initially led to the goal against, and can focus on saving the next shot each and every time. It also means they can go back to each situation after the game to further dive in to the play, and fix any gaps in net coverage, or positional issues so that type of goal doesn’t become an epidemic (studying video helps with this a lot).
This is one thing Brian Elliott has always struggled with in game, adjusting his play to that of the opposing team, and bouncing back from bad goals, or poor stretches of play. Again, overall he is one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL, but his sample size is always limited because that is the role in which he best performs (as a 1a/b or a back-up). Make no mistake, Elliott will continue to be an integral part of the Blues squad until he moves on, and will also continue to give Allen great mentoring along the way, but Jake Allen has proven he has the goods to be a number-1 goalie, and he’s been the backbone of the Blues so far this season.